Foreign ministers call for democratised UN and an enlarged Security Council

THE 'democratisation' and modernisation of the United Nations were urged by some 40 Ministers from developing countries meeting informally in Havana to discuss the role of the UN in the 21st century. 'The only way to improve our lot as developing countries is to ask for a fair share in the UN's decision-making process,' they said.

The Ministers, most of whom are Ministers of Foreign Affairs and who represent all regions of the developing world, from the Caribbean and Latin America to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, were in Havana to attend the South Summit of the Group of 77, the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations.

Permanent membership in the Security Council for developing countries, the elimination of the veto, and 'transparency' in the Council's work were called for, along with an 'early warning system' to prevent the emergence or development of conflicts, an increasing number of which are erupting in the South. The UN and its specialised agencies must be committed to international peace and security and at the same time to development and the eradication of poverty, which are 'two sides of the same coin', the officials said.

The original vision of the UN, as contained in its Charter, does not need to be redefined, the Ministers said. However, many of them expressed reservations about the principle of 'humanitarian intervention' that has been much discussed in recent months as a solution to the dilemma posed by internal conflicts and massive human rights violations. 'That principle is now being defined as the power of the international community to intervene against governments on the basis of criteria defined by the few,' deplored one speaker. He and others called for reaffirming the Charter's provisions on respect for sovereignty, sovereign equality, non-intervention in internal affairs and self-determination.

No 'one-size-fits-all' model

The UN should play a greater role in socioeconomic development and investment in human beings, a number of Ministers said, adding that, while debates on democratisation and good governance were appropriate, there was 'no one-size-fits-all' model of what constitutes a democratic government; the form of government chosen should address the particularities of each country. Good governance also required capacity-building, as many developing countries lacked the necessary institutions and machineries. 'Ethics for governance need to be looked at,' noted one Minister, 'but not in the absence of those institutions'.

The Ministers called for restoring the primacy of the UN General Assembly and said the Bretton Woods institutions should be reformed as well, to allow developing countries to participate in the decision-making process, given the major impact of their policies on those nations' economies.

The World Bank should provide support to investment in infrastructure and social capital but without demanding 'unachievable' conditions of its beneficiary nations, said one leader, who also proposed a role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in stabilising volatile international capital flows and cancelling developing countries' debt.

On the UN's role in the new century, the Ministers also advocated:

* Finding ways to encourage the implementation and enforcement of humanitarian and human rights law;

* Creating a capacity-building fund to support developing countries' work in such fields as remote sensing, information technology and biotechnology; and

* Forging a partnership between North and South that extends not just to economic and social questions but also to cross-border terrorism; illegal trafficking in drugs, arms and people; and money laundering.

For the international community in general, the Ministers defined a number of key challenges, including improved living standards, reversing the brain drain and the 'privatisation' of knowledge, and effective realisation of the right to development. The faith of developing countries in multilateral negotiations should be reinvigorated, and the developed world should make good on the 'broken promise' of allocating 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) to aid, they insisted. - May 2000